After years of tension and drama surrounding the infamous secretive Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a vote by the European Parliament seems to have sealed it’s fate. This morning, the European Parliament has voted 478 against the agreement, 39 for the agreement and 165 abstained.
We’ve been following developments surrounding ACTA very closely. More recently, the International Trade committee (INTA) narrowly voted to reject ACTA, making it 5 committees to 0 that recommended against ratifying the agreement. While the last committee’s close, but critical rejection meant a lot, the most important vote was yet to come – the vote by the European Parliament which was scheduled to be held today.
There were rumors that some might try to delay the vote. There was also a movement to try and defer the vote until the European Court of Justice ruled on whether or not ACTA violated fundamental rights. All of these ideas were methods of trying to salvage the agreement which, until today, was on life support in Europe. Now, the big headline of the day? ACTA was rejected by the European Parliament. From the Associated Press:
The European Parliament overwhelmingly defeated an international anti-piracy trade agreement Wednesday after concern that it would limit Internet freedom sparked street protests in cities across Europe.
The vote — 39 in favor, 478 against, with 165 abstentions — appeared to deal the death blow to the European Union’s participation in a treaty it helped negotiate, though other countries may still participate without the EU.
Supporters had maintained that ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, was needed to standardize the different national laws that protect the rights of those who produce music, movies, pharmaceuticals, fashion goods and other products that often fall victim to piracy and intellectual property theft. EU officials said, too, that protecting European ideas was essential to the economic growth the continent so badly needs.
But opponents feared the treaty would lead to censorship and snooping on the Internet activities of ordinary citizens. Alex Wilks, who directed the anti-ACTA campaign for the advocacy group Avaaz, said the agreement would have permitted private companies to spy on the activities of Internet users and would have allowed users to be disconnected without due process.
From the Winnipeg Free Press:
David Martin, a member of the Parliament from Scotland and the person who reported to the European Parliament on the proposal, said before Wednesday’s vote that the agreement was dead. “No emergency surgery, no transplant, no long period of recuperation is going to save ACTA,” Martin said. “It’s time to give it its last rites. It’s time to allow its friends to mourn and for the rest of us to get on with our lives.”
The Guardian, which features a picture of Green Part MEPs holding up signs saying “Hello Democracy, Goodbye ACTA” noted that some say that ACTA isn’t dead yet. From The Guardian:
Acta could still be revived if the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, considers that it needs to be implemented and wins a court decision over it.
The defeat brings to an end years of secret international negotiations, during which opponents of the treaty had complained that it was not being given sufficient public examination to determine whether its proposals were excessive or reasonable.
When it finally surfaced and became the topic of European Parliament discussion, opponents complained that it could, if interpreted strictly, lead to censorship and loss of privacy online.
So, while ACTA is now effectively dead in Europe, there is the possibility that it can be revived. Also, a defeat in Europe doesn’t mean that it’s defeated everywhere else. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this defeat could have a profound impact on other countries still deciding whether or not to go along with the agreement. Australia, for instance, had a committee that recommended against implementing it right away unless certain conditions are met after seeing what has happened in Europe.
It’s not clear to us if other governments have had their decision influenced by what happened in Europe. Still, this defeat is no doubt hitting supporters hard at this stage. At this stage, any hope on bringing back ACTA would be more or less a resurrection effort.
I have to say, though, that this is starting to remind me of a similar incident with the infamous broadcast flag. It was initially proposed back in 2002 once PVR’s started entering the market, but was subsequently killed after an outcry of opposition. There were efforts to bring it back and it even made headlines as recent as 2008, but, to our knowledge, the efforts seemed to have failed given that we haven’t heard anything about the issue since then. I do wonder if we’re going to see continual efforts in the years to come to resurrect ACTA for years to come. Some likened the broadcast flag like a zombie that keeps trying to come back out of the grave and people have to shove garlic in its mouth, drive a stake through its heart ad decapitate its head and bury if even deeper into the ground to make sure its dead. Who knows if the same thing is going to happen to ACTA? I do know that there are companies willing to put forth money and resources to resurrect something like ACTA in Europe rather than simply finding better and new innovative ways to bring the products to market. We’ll have to wait and see where things go from here.